Const. George Henrie is the first Inuk RCMP officer to work on the protection detail for Canada’s prime ministers, and last week he was in Iqaluit when Justin Trudeau apologized to Inuit for past government policies surrounding tuberculosis.
“Taking part in that is something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” Henrie said.
Henrie is from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Cpl. Jamie Savikataaq, communications officer with the Nunavut RCMP, says Henrie is currently the only Inuk member with the prime minister’s protection detail.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, nearly half of Inuit in the eastern Arctic were taken from their homes to southern Canada for treatment of tuberculosis, often without the consent or an explanation to their family. Some died without the family knowing what happened or where they were buried. Trudeau was in Iqaluit Friday to apologize on behalf of the Canadian government.
As Henrie guarded Trudeau during the visit, he got a bit of a shock when he saw his aunt in the audience, because he didn’t know she would be there.
“The prime minister made his way to her. [Trudeau] was told that this was my auntie and we did start speaking and when he was speaking to her I was translating for him,” said Henrie, who speaks Inuktitut.
Watch Justin Trudeau meet George Henrie’s aunt
Henrie said he learned that day his aunt had also been affected by the colonial policies of removing Inuit for TB treatment in the mid-20th century.
“I wasn’t aware. It was just something people never spoke of about. She … told me she had gone down for treatment three times when she was young. It was a very hard time for her,” Henrie said.
He said she felt some peace after hearing the apology.
Protecting prime ministers
Henrie was a police officer in Ottawa, Arviat, Iqaluit and Coral Harbour, before taking the job protecting prime ministers in December 2009.
“At first it was surreal. You see a lot of things on TV that you’re seeing first-hand now — being in suit and tie, having the earpiece and seeing what goes on behind closed doors,” he said.
He’s travelled all over the world, but a highlight of his career was when former prime minister Stephen Harper visited Rankin Inlet and delayed his departure to take a picture with Henrie’s parents.
Harper visited Henrie’s elementary school and Henrie said he remembers the pride in his teachers’ eyes.
Low Inuit recruitment
Henrie was part of an all-Inuit group that trained to be RCMP officers in Regina in 2002.
Savikataaq trained with Henrie and said there haven’t been any new Inuit police recruits from Nunavut to the RCMP since shortly after their training.
The number of Inuit RCMP officers from Nunavut is now in the low single digits, as there have been no new recruits in more than 15 years and many have left for other jobs.
Savikataaq wanted to get Henrie’s story known because it could “inspire a youth [to pursue] a career in the RCMP or any other profession by seeing a local Inuk from a small town becoming a successful professional.”
Former RCMP officer David Lawson, who is also Inuk and from Nunavut and worked in the prime minister’s protection detail, is now in law school at Nunavut Arctic College.
This story originally appeared on CBC